Networks Frame Congressional Hearings on Radical Islam as 'Witch Hunt,' All Cite CAIR Spokesman
On ABC's Good Morning America on Wednesday, co-host George Stephanopoulos fretted over congressional hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims being "potentially explosive" and that "Critics are already calling this a witch hunt." The headline on screen throughout the segment read: "Hearings on Islamic Radicals: Witch Hunt or Reality Check?"
ABC was not alone in touting the "witch hunt" accusation. On CBS's Early Show, correspondent Nancy Cordes described how "already foes [of the hearings] are calling them discriminatory and a witch-hunt." On NBC's Today, co-host Meredith Vieira introduced a report on the hearings by noting how "critics say it amounts to a witch hunt."
In addition, reports on all three network morning shows cited a spokesperson from the left-wing Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to bolster accusations of discrimination against the hearings being conducted by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman, Republican Congressman Peter King.
ABC and CBS both used sound bites from Ibrahim Hooper. On Good Morning America, Hooper warned the hearings "have the potential to demonize Islam." On the Early Show, Hooper slammed King as someone who "has a past history of anti-Muslim rhetoric. He has a past history of promoting anti-Muslim sentiment." NBC's Today cited fellow CAIR member Nihad Awad, who proclaimed: "Our community is bracing against generalization and fear-mongering because our community has suffered. It is very sad that we have not learned lessons from history."
Interviews with Congressman King on all three shows amounted to interrogations. Good Morning America and Today were particularly bad in that both compared King to Joseph McCarthy. ABC's Stephanopoulos declared: "You've been accused of modern-day McCarthyism, fueling bigots." NBC's Vieira observed: "...the hearing hasn't even started yet and already you are being compared to Joe McCarthy, hell bent, on a witch hunt. What is your mission?"
On CBS, co-host Chris Wragge cited a recent study in an attempt to undermine King's argument for holding the hearings: "In a study conducted by Duke University and the University of North Carolina, since 9/11, in the 120 terror plots the public knows of, 48 have been thwarted by the Muslim community. So you say the community's not really doing enough but the numbers show that, you know what, they're not doing badly. So why do you say they're not doing enough?"
In response, King pointed out the numerous flaws in the data:
I don't accept those numbers....they left out a number of cases involving terrorist financing, which they did not include in there....they include cases in there, for instance, there's the Zazi case in New York, the subway bombing plot, when actually in that case the imam tipped off the defendant that police were coming after him. The imam almost disrupted that case. How they can give him credit for that I don't know. They also give credit for the Muslim vendor in Times Square who saw a car on fire and reported it to the police. Now why seeing a car on fire would indicate a Muslim attack or a terrorist attack is beyond me. So I think that – that – that report was skewed.
Stephanopoulos cited the same study in his interview with King.
Unlike ABC and NBC, CBS interviewed King alongside Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison, the only Muslim member of Congress. Wragge actually did challenge Ellison's criticism of the hearings: "...many of the recent attacks and attempted attacks have come from within the Muslim community. So, what is wrong with questioning Muslim leaders as to what is actually going on inside their communities?"
Ellison argued: "...if you take a hearing like this, and use a congressional investigative hearing to investigate a community with the allegation – before we've even had any testimony, the allegation that there's no cooperation, I think what you're doing is you're setting the tone of blame and collective guilt, and you're thwarting the very thing you say you want to achieve, which is greater public safety."
In a sound bite for the ABC report, Ellison claimed: "These hearings, as presently organized, won't do any good and they may well do a lot of damage." On NBC, Vieira asked King about Ellison's concerns: "...he is very concerned that this hearing is gonna backfire. That it's gonna play into the hands of terrorist recruiters who are gonna use it to say, 'See America is at war with Islam.'"
Here is a full transcript of Stephanopoulos' March 9 interview with King on Good Morning America:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And we are joined, now, by the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, Congressman Peter King. Good morning, Congressman.
REP PETER KING (R-NY): Good morning, George. Good to be with you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, boy, you are stirring up a hornet's nest here. You've been accused of modern-day McCarthyism, fueling bigots. I understand your purpose. But why not beat back the critics by broadening out the hearings to contain all sources of domestic terrorism, rather than zeroing in on a single religion?
KING: Because, George, this is where the threat is coming from. And, you know, this isn't just me saying this. Just on Sunday, when Denis McDonough, the President's deputy National Security Adviser, when he gave his speech at the mosque in Virginia, he said that al Qaeda has changed its tactics. It is now making a determined effort to recruit and radicalize within the Muslim American community. He didn't mention any other community. He gave the speech to Muslims, saying that is what is al Qaeda is attempting to do. To me, it might be politically correct, but it makes no sense at all to talk about other types of so-called extremism, when the major threat to the United States today is coming from al Qaeda and al Qaeda is attempting to recruit in this country. And as Eric Holder said, I believe in the last two years alone, there have been 50 homegrown terrorists arrested in this country. He said that he can't sleep at night, or says he's awake at night, because of the threat of domestic radicalization. Janet Napolitano said the threat level has never been higher. So, to me, might be politically correct, but it would diffuse and water down the hearing, it would serve no purpose. If you investigate everybody, you investigate nobody.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But, as you know, the Attorney General did not single out Muslims in that statement. And there's an awful lot of evidence that the Muslim community is taking on this threat. In fact, the greatest source, according to a Duke University study, of tips turning in potential radicals is the Muslim community itself.
KING: Yeah. That's actually a very misleading report. They include cases in there, for instance, the Azazi case in New York, the subway bomber. They give an imam credit for turning him in. Actually, the imam tipped him off and the case was almost broken. They give credit to the vender in Times Square who saw a car on fire and he reported it and that was- the Times Square bomber- How did he know that involved a terrorist attack? That report was skewed. And I go back to what Eric Holder said. You look at the numbers. No matter how you look at it, that is the Muslim-American community he's talking about, the overwhelming percentage. For instance, in the last two years, there's been no terror indictments of neo-Nazis or skinheads or environmental extremists. So, the fact is, and when Denis McDonagh spoke on Sunday, what he was talking about, he said the Muslim-American community is being targeted by al Qaeda. That's the reality.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But, do you any have law enforcement officials testifying at your hearing who will say the Muslim community has not been cooperating in trying to turn in the radicals when they find them?
KING: Better than that, George, I will have people from the Muslim community who will say how when they went to law enforcement, how imams attempted to stop them. How they were threatened when they did want to report. When the FBI began investigations, how the imams in the mosques told them not to cooperate. These are people on the ground. The main witnesses are going to be Muslim, people in the community. Showing how they're intimidated. Showing how imams and other leaders and groups such as CAIR are working against them. So, to me, that's much more effective evidence, rather than a law enforcement person talk about statistics, I'm going to have a person on the ground. I can tell you from my experience, every law enforcement person I've spoken to in New York, have told me they don't get the cooperation. I give examples of mosques on Long Island.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are they going to be testifying?
KING: No, because I get so many witnesses. And I have people on the ground that have these Muslim-Americans who are themselves are victimized by their own community, to me, is much more effective.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And you're not concerned this is going to backfire, that by focusing on the Muslim community, you'll actually cause that community to turn in on itself?
KING: No. I don't- in a democracy, the idea is to get the facts out there and let the people decide. And, again, you're saying focusing on the Muslim-American community. Isn't that what the President's National Security Adviser did on Sunday when he said al Qaeda is trying to radicalize the Muslim-American community?
Here is a full transcript of Vieira's March 9 interview with King on Today:
MEREDITH VIEIRA: New York Republican Congressman Peter King is chairman of the House Homeland Security committee. Good morning to you, Mr. Congressman.
REP. PETER KING: Good morning, Meredith.
VIEIRA: Let me ask you, starting out, the, the hearing hasn't even started yet and already you are being compared to Joe McCarthy, hell bent, on a witch hunt. What is your mission?
KING: My mission quite frankly and really quite simply is to show the extent of radicalization within the Muslim-American community being carried out by al Qaeda. This is the same message the President's national, deputy national security adviser gave the other night when he said al Qaeda has changed its strategy and it is now attempting to recruit and radicalize the Muslim-American community. That's where the threat is coming from. Now I have said over and over again the overwhelming majority of Muslim-Americans are outstanding Americans but al Qaeda is recruiting in there and they've had results. We saw Azazi, the attempted subway bomber in New York. We saw Shahzad, the Times Square bomber. We saw Major Hassan at Ft. Hood. The attorney general has said that he stays awake at night. He can't sleep at night, being so concerned about the radicalization going on in this country. You have the clip from Secretary Napolitano. So I'm carrying this to its logical conclusion of having a public hearing. And the hysteria and all this yelling and screaming that's going on, that's been caused by my opponents. I put out very basic direct statements, on this, saying what the purpose of the hearing is. I would hope they would have embraced the hearing. You know the leaders such as CAIR in the Muslim community, even radical leaders.
VIEIRA: But, but I think the problem is a lot of people, a lot of people are not embracing the hearing. There are a lot of Muslim-Americans who are concerned about it. They're, they're gonna feel alienated because of it. They are fearful of it. They're fearful of Islamophobia, more Islamophobia in this country. How do you avoid that? Or do you care if that's a by product?
KING: Well I would run a good hearing. I will run an honest and fair hearing. Again, the hysteria that is being created is by my opponents. Groups such as CAIR, radical Muslim organizations. I would hope that rank and file Muslims will come forward. But the main purpose of this hearing, also, is to protect the Muslim community. I will have Muslims testifying tomorrow, showing how they were intimidated in their own communities. How al Qaeda is radicalizing. And when they go to their leaders in the community, the leaders tell them to keep quiet. The leaders attempt to obstruct investigations. They will talk about what's happened to their family. One man, his, his nephew was murdered in Somalia and yet the local imams wanted to cover that up. And they harassed him when he went public with it. Another man, his son was a Muslim convert, who was over in Yemen and kept acting, committed horrible crimes. He talks about the radicalization process. I want to protect the people in the Muslim community. I want to protect the broader American community as well. Because we're all one nation.
VIEIRA: But one of those Muslims who will be testifying tomorrow is Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress. And he is very concerned that this hearing is gonna backfire. That it's gonna play into the hands of terrorist recruiters who are gonna use it to say, "See America is at war with Islam."
KING: Well they would only say that if they believe what radical Muslim leaders such as CAIR are trying to say. Again, as an example of my good faith, back in December, this is almost three months ago, I invited Congressman Ellison. He and I disagree on this issue, but I invited him to testify at the hearing, to give his side of it. So he could say why he takes the positions he does. If I were trying to somehow ram the hearing through. I certainly wouldn't have invited Keith Ellison, who is the most prominent Muslim-American in the Congress today. The first Muslim-American ever elect. That, to me, shows the fairness on my side. So, again, I think if there is gonna be any outgrowth from this. If there is gonna be animosity, I would blame it on my opponents. I have conducted this, from day one, in an orderly and professional way. The hysteria, the yelling in the rain, in Times Square and all that. That was all generated by my opponents.
VIEIRA: Alright, Congressman Peter King. Thank you very much.
KING: Meredith, thank you.
Here is a full transcript of Wragge's March 9 interview with King and Ellison on the Early Show:
CHRIS WRAGGE: Now joining us from Capitol Hill are Republican Congressman Peter King and Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress. And he'll be a witness at the hearings. Gentlemen, good morning to the both of you.
PETER KING: Good Morning.
KEITH ELLISON [REP. D-MI]: Good Morning.
WRAGGE: Congressman King, I'm going to start with you. In a study conducted by Duke University and the University of North Carolina, since 9/11, in the 120 terror plots the public knows of, 48 have been thwarted by the Muslim community. So you say the community's not really doing enough but the numbers show that, you know what, they're not doing badly. So why do you say they're not doing enough?
KING: Well actually, I don't accept those numbers. For instance, the percentage is made much higher because they left out a number of cases involving terrorist financing, which they did not include in there.
Secondly, a number of those cases also involve family members coming forward – which I agree there have been family members coming forward – it's many times the leadership that doesn't.
And also, they include cases in there, for instance, there's the Zazi case in New York, the subway bombing plot, when actually in that case the imam tipped off the defendant that police were coming after him. The imam almost disrupted that case. How they can give him credit for that I don't know. They also give credit for the Muslim vendor in Times Square who saw a car on fire and reported it to the police. Now why seeing a car on fire would indicate a Muslim attack or a terrorist attack is beyond me.
So I think that – that – that report was skewed. In fact, in that report they also say that the terror threat in the United States is going down. And Eric Holder says it's going up. And Napolitano says it's going up. And the President's own national security adviser Dennis McDonough says it's going up. So I would say that is a biased report.
But having said that, family members have cooperated. We will have family members testifying tomorrow at the hearings to show how they did cooperate, but they did not receive support from the leadership in the community.
WRAGGE: Yeah. Congressman Ellison, let me ask you here, many of the recent attacks and attempted attacks have come from within the Muslim community. So, what is wrong with questioning Muslim leaders as to what is actually going on inside their communities?
KEITH ELLISON: Because what we want to do is build cooperation and trust and open lines of communication so that we can have a very, very fertile, and a good exchange between law enforcement and the community. I mean, if you take a hearing like this, and use a congressional investigative hearing to investigate a community with the allegation – before we've even had any testimony, the allegation that there's no cooperation, I think what you're doing is you're setting the tone of blame and collective guilt, and you're thwarting the very thing you say you want to achieve, which is greater public safety.
So I think that the hearings are ill-placed. One of the interesting things about this hearing is that there's only one law enforcement official. Only Lee Baca, who's L.A. county sheriff, is going to be testifying. I'll be testifying, but I'm not a law enforcement official. This is basically a group of witnesses who were designed to offer their views, but in terms of expert opinions, this hearing is sorely lacking. So I think that's another real fatal flaw in what's going to be taking place on Thursday.
WRAGGE: Congressman King, I have to ask you this, on the front page of The New York Times today, an article details your ties and support to the IRA back in the '80s. Regardless of where the acts took place, isn't terrorism terrorism and just morally wrong?
KING: First of all, the story in The New York Times is entirely distorted. I will tell you that just in the last week, British Prime Minister Tony Blair has defended my actions in Northern Ireland in being very responsible for bringing about the Irish peace process. President Bill Clinton has stood by me and President Barack Obama offered me the position of ambassador to Ireland. So if they thought in any way that any of my actions were wrong I doubt the President of the United States would have offered me to become ambassador to Ireland.
What I did was take an active role. I was one of those who saw the elements within the IRA who wanted to go to the peace table. I worked with Bill Clinton to bring them to the peace table. And I was absolutely essential in bringing about that peace process, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of people alive today in Northern Ireland because of my efforts. So The New York Times story – by the way, three months ago – or two months ago – The New York Times did an editorial, actually praised me for my efforts in Northern Ireland. That's when they were trying to prove another point.
So obviously terrorism is terrorism. I would be happy to discuss and debate this issue at any time. I would compare the IRA, the people in the IRA that I thought were willing to go to the peace table – which were – who, by the way, are sitting in government in Northern Ireland alongside protestant leaders and work on a regular basis with the British government – are the people that I said during the 1980s, 199Os, would bring peace, they did. I've been proven right. The Times is doing this as a last-minute attempt to take a shot at me.
If I could make one other point, the reason the hearings are focusing on the Muslim community, the President's own national security adviser said Al Qaeda is attempting to radicalize the Muslim American community. I have said over and over again, 99%, more than that maybe, of Muslims in this country are outstanding Americans, but their community is being targeted. That's why the investigation is there. If another community was being targeted by Al Qaeda or foreign organizations, we would obviously investigate that also.
WRAGGE: Alright, Congressman Peter King, thank you very much for taking the time. Congressman Ellison, thank you, much, as well.
ELLISON: Thank you.
WRAGGE: Alright, and we will, of course, have plenty more to report on those hearings as they take place.
ERICA HILL: Yes, there will be much to say from a lot of people on that.
— Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.